Consumers have turned to alternative diets that are better and cleaner than traditional or refined foods. As a result, organic foods have been well recognized in the industry for many years (Rembialkowska and Srednika-Tober 719).
Organic foods are crops and livestock that are cultivated and processed without the use of synthetic fertilizers, contaminants, ionizing radiation, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (Chen 1). Organic livestock is typically raised to provide an adequate supply of eggs, beef, and dairy products. Organic fruits and vegetables are then grown and sold to the general population for safe consumption (Robinson). Organic foods are primarily rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Compared to non-organic foods, they contain greater percentages of iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Among the list of important vitamins, ascorbic acid was found to have the highest quantity. Phytonutrients such as carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols are also present in organic foods. Carotenoids such as lycopene are known to decrease the occurrence of cancer while flavonoids serve as antioxidants that help strengthen immune function (Crinnion 8-9). Organic meat, milk and dairy products also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are deemed essential in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases (Robinson).
In the study of Rembialkowska and Srednika-Tober, crops grown organically were found to contain lesser quantities of chemical residues such as nitrates and pesticides compared to non-organic crops. Moreover, it also has greater amounts of essential amino acids, phenols, sugars, ascorbic acid and dry matter. Organic milk was found to have greater amounts of vitamins, fat, calcium and conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) in contrast with ordinary milk. Meat from organically raised farm animals contained lesser quantities of saturated fatty acids but higher quantities of unsaturated fatty acids. In various experiments done on organic foods, it was also found that repair of bacterial DNA was higher compared with conventional foods. The production of cancer cells was also found to be lower in organically-grown plants. For animals regularly fed with organic foods, there was a marked improvement regarding fertility and immune responses. As for humans, consumption of organic food was found to reduce the risks of allergies, obesity, and eczema (719-722).
Organic food is also considered all-natural and fresher than processed foods being sold in groceries since it does not possess harmful chemicals and preservatives. Farming methods used for the production of organic food contribute to enhanced soil fertility, decreased soil erosion, decreased pollution levels and safe water conservation (Robinson; Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health).
In general, the constant intake of organic foods has positive advantages on the health and well-being of consumers (Rembialkowska and Srednika-Tober 723). Its potential efficacy on counteracting GMO and pesticide effects shall then be further investigated in the course of this paper.
Organic Food and GMOs
Genetic modification is described as the process of altering the metabolic and morphological aspects of plants and animals through the incorporation of certain genes. It is also considered as the transfer of genetic material from one species to another to create the desired characteristics for greater productivity. Genetic modification is also known as genetic engineering or biotechnology (Anderson et al., 183).
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) refer to a collection of plants, animals, and microorganisms that undergo genetic engineering to be utilized for scientific studies and agricultural developments. It has been found that GMOs may pose a threat not only to the environment but also to the health of individuals (GMO Editors). GM crops were first introduced to consumers in 1996. Due to the application of biotechnology, it was perceived that most of the food products in the U.S. markets nowadays consist of GM components (Anderson et al., 180).
GMOs were found to be the main culprits of allergic reactions due to the incorporation of foreign proteins from newly-established genes. These proteins promote specific immune responses that increase in intensity especially when unknown allergens are introduced for the first time in GM foods (GMO Editors). Genes that have allergenic effects can also be introduced into crops that are previously non-allergenic. Nevertheless, it was also found that not only GM foods can cause allergic reactions in humans. Non-GM foods such as potatoes, soybeans and fleshy fruits can also cause allergies since it is possible that these crops were produced through GM methods or traditional breeding (Key et al., 293).
GMOs contain anti-nutrients or substances that intervene with nutrient processes. The elevated levels of anti-nutrients are caused by the massive introduction of new genes to certain plants or animals. Some notable anti-nutrients are glucinins, phytoestrogens and phytic acid which were found to cause certain adverse ailments such as allergies, infertility as well as phosphorus and zinc deficiencies (Arya 3).
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), GMOs are also found to be the leading cause of memory lapses, gastro-intestinal disorders and vital organ malfunction (Robinson).
The introduction of new genes to a plant leads to increased amounts of toxins which if consumed, could be harmful to the health of individuals. Newly-incorporated genes can adversely affect the metabolic processes in a plant, causing it to produce greater amounts of toxins instead of being helpful in the prevention of numerous plant diseases (Key et al., 293). To elude the increased levels of toxins in genetically modified plants, people then shift to consuming more organic foods.
GM foods were found to have lesser nutritional value as compared to organic foods. This is because certain nutrients are not present or are found to be indigestible in humans. Inserted genes enable a certain plant to release higher levels of harmful compounds that can decrease the nutritional value of the plant. Moreover, specific bacteria residing in the intestinal tract of animals and humans may acquire resistance to antibiotics which may be deemed detrimental to the health of consumers (GMO Editors).
Consumption of organic food products can offset the effects of GMO exposure in humans. Organic foods are less toxic compared to traditional foods that may have GM components due to the introduction of foreign genes into traditionally grown crops. This, in turn, increases the toxicity level of such crops and eventually leads to adverse effects on human health. Moreover, organic food consumption reduces the effects of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, which are higher in traditionally-bred cops or animals injected frequently with antibiotics (GMO Editors).
In the study of Anderson and his co-workers, organic foods were viewed as more health-beneficial compared to GM foods. GM foods were not even regarded as a healthy alternative to conventional foods due to its prevalent negative effects (184-185). Despite the massive release of GM products in the market nowadays, more consumers still patronize food products that do not have GM components. Furthermore, the demand for organic foods continues to rise even though manufacture costs and prices for such products are higher than before (180).
Numerous factors were also identified in this study as to why consumers continue to purchase organic food products despite its rising costs. These are health, nutritive value, safety, taste and environmental benefits. Since organic foods have greater nutritive content compared to GM foods, consumption of such products leads to positive outcomes regarding human health. Because of the general awareness of individuals on the chemical content of conventional food items, more consumers continue to patronize organic food products to elude the effects of GM components. Moreover, most people believe that their consumption of organic foods contributes to a clean, pollution-free environment (182).
Organic Food and Pesticides
Pesticides are defined as biochemical substances that are applied to crops to protect it from weeds, insects and certain infections. Normally, pesticides are utilized on grains such as wheat and rice, olives, fruits, vegetables, flowers, grass and cotton (Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health; Toxics Action Center).
Pesticides are known to have deleterious effects specifically to one’s health. Residues from pesticides are regarded as potential food toxins which can cause allergies, genetic mutations, endocrine and neurologic disorders as well as hormonal imbalances. Such pesticide residues are found in high quantities on traditionally-grown crops (Rembialkowska and Srednicka-Tober 723).
Frequent utilization of pesticides has also been found to be the leading cause of certain forms of cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia and brain tumors. Constant pesticide exposure also has adverse effects on the reproductive system specifically of pregnant women since fetuses are prone to greater risks of congenital disabilities. Endocrine and neurological disorders may also be one of the consequences of pesticide exposure especially in children (Oates and Cohen 49-50).
Most people who are exposed to the health risks of using pesticides are farmers and pesticide applicators. Certain health ailments such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, dizziness, and confusion may result from severe pesticide poisonings. Frequent exposure to pesticides also causes various respiratory ailments, skin lesions, memory lapses, depression as well as birth abnormalities and miscarriages in pregnant women. High quantities of organophosphorus (OP) pesticide metabolites in the urine may also lead to greater probability of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) occurrence in children and adolescents (Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health).
Certain harmful organisms such as “super weeds” and “super bugs” can also develop due to the frequent use of pesticides. These organisms pose a great threat to crop productivity and crop yield (Robinson; Toxics Action Center).
Due to the adverse effects of synthetic pesticide use, people are highly encouraged to purchase and consume organic foods. For instance, meat from organically-raised cattle, pigs, chicken and sheep are not exposed to certain chemicals such as antibiotics, animal byproducts, and growth hormones, thus it is deemed healthier for consumers. The occurrence of mad cow disease and bacterial infections can also be prevented through organic food consumption (Robinson).
In addition, studies have found that the consumption of organic foods can help offset children’s exposure to synthetic pesticides. Regular meals normally increase the levels of OP pesticide metabolites in certain body fluids. However, with the introduction of organic foods, it has been found that there is a significant decline in the levels of OP pesticide metabolites in the urine (Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health). Thus, it has been discovered that organic food consumption cancels out the effects of OP pesticide exposure in humans (Rembialkowska and Srednicka-Tober 723).
The production of organic foods was also found to decrease the utilization of synthetic pesticides. Aside from its benefits to the health of individuals, organic food items were perceived to be more environment-friendly compared to artificial fertilizers and pesticides (Anderson et al., 191). Organic farming procedures do not utilize synthetic pesticides as compared to traditional farming methods. As such, organic farming is considered to be more beneficial in promoting a healthy environment since the risks of pesticide use are greatly reduced (Chen 2).
Although synthetic pesticides are not used in the cultivation of organic foods, certain chemical residues from herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides may be still present due to the chemical makeup of the soil where such crops are grown. Nonetheless, chemical residues in organic foods are generally present in lesser quantities compared to crops grown through traditional farming methods (Crinnion 6).
In conclusion, organic food consumption is deemed healthier and safer to humans not only because of its nutritive value, but also, it cancels out the effects of GMOs and pesticides.
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